The Story of Mississippi’s New Capitol: Hiring an architect

Back in December, I mentioned in “More Architect/Builder Pics: Link and Barnes” that I wanted to post more about the New Capitol and how it came to be. That will be our project for this week. Tucked at the back of the booklet called “Dedication of the New Capitol” as an appendix is the “Report of the State House Commission to the Legislature of Mississippi, 1902,” and while the first couple of paragraphs seem like a dry government report, the rest of it paints a vivid picture of the process that got Mississippi a new capitol—from the formation of the committee to the opening of the building–in the space of less than three years. Enjoy!

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To the Legislature of the State of Mississippi:

The State House Commission, created under an act of the Legislature of this State, entitled, “An act to create a State House Commission, to secure drawings, plans and specifications for, and to authorize and provide for the building and erection of a State House,” approved February 21, 1900, begs leave respectfully to report:

That in pursuance of said act, on the 17th day of March, 1900, the Commission, consisting of the Governor and the Attorney General, Phil A. Rush; elected by the Senate, W.G. Stovall, elected by the House of Representatives, and J.C. Hardy, appointed by the Governor, duly organized, the members having qualified as provided by law.

Shortly after the organization of the Commission, on the 9th day of April, in 1900, J.C. Hardy, who had been appointed by the Governor, resigned and R.H. Thompson was duly appointed by the Governor, qualified as a member of the Commission. Afterwards, on the 30th day of August, 1901, Phil A. Rush, who had been appointed in pursuance of his election by the Senate of member of the Commission, resigned, and R.A. Dean was appointed in his stead and qualified, becoming a member of the Commission on the 3d day of October, 1901.

At the organization of the Commission L.T. Fitzhugh, Jr., was appointed by the Governor as its Secretary, and he duly qualified as such. Afterwards, on the 14th day of March, 1901, when building operations had commenced, the Commission elected J.F. Barnes Superintendent and he qualified and entered upon the discharge of his duties.

Shortly after its organization the Commission advertised with a view of selecting a suitable set of plans and specifications for the Capitol building by a competitive architectural contest, and in pursuance of said advertisement for plans and specifications, the following persons, firms or corporations presented plans and specifications as required by the Commission under the statute, viz:

  1. Moad & Bramlet, Dallas, Texas.
  2. E.E. Meyers, Detroit, Michigan.
  3. J.W. Gaddis, Vincinnes, Indiana.
  4. Bruce & Morgan, Atlanta, Georgia.
  5. Theodore C. Link, St. Louis, Missouri.
  6. Weathers & Weathers, Memphis, Tennessee.
  7. H. Wolters, Louisville, Kentucky.
  8. George R. Mann, Little Rock, Arkansas.
  9. James B. Cook, Memphis, Tennessee.
  10. Bryan & Gilbert, Atlanta, Georgia.
  11. J. Riley Gordon, Dallas, Texas.
  12. Alfred Zucker, New York, New York.
  13. G.W. Bunting, Indianapolis, Indiana
  14. E.O. Murdock & Company, Omaha, Nebraska

At the time fixed by the advertisement, to-wit, the 9th day of April, 1900, [note that this is less than 2 months after the legislation authorizing the Commission, and only about three weeks after the Commission’s first meeting] the Commission met for the purpose of considering the plans and specifications which were entered for competition. It spent several weeks in the investigation of them and in examining the several architects who appeared before it. The result was that in the opinion of the Commission more than one-half of the plans and specification presented were excellent, and several of them most admirable. The Commission found itself, however, very much in doubt as to the relative merits of these plans and specifications, and were even more doubtful as to whether the buildings proposed could be erected within the limit of the statute, providing that the new Capitol should not cost exceeding $1,000,000. After giving attention and thought to the subject, it was finally agreed, as none of the members of the Commission were practical builders or architects, that, the interest of the State would be advanced by securing the services of a competent person to advise them. Reflection along this line led the Commission to conclude that it did not so much need the services of an expert architect as that of a thoroughly competent builder. The members of the Commission were conscious that a builder who was competent to construct the largest buildings in the country would at once detect any serious defects or want of harmony in the plans and specifications. The Commission therefore exercised its best judgment in the direction of the selection of such a contractor and builder. Investigation led to the selection of Mr. Barnard R. Green, of Washington City, the contractor and builder who had erected, among other large structures, the Congressional Library building at Washington, said to be the finest building in the United States and among the finest in the world. Opening negotiations with Mr. Green, the Commission was enabled to secure his services at $50.00 per day, together with his expenses, and thinking it wise to secure his aid, did so. His services cost, in the aggregate, the sum of $490.00, and the Commission is of the opinion that the same amount of money could not have been more advantageously expended. Mr. Green began an investigation of the several plans and specifications, at the request of the Commission, on the 7th, and completed his examination of all of them on the 12th of June, 1900. In making this examination the Commission was careful to see that Mr. Green was entirely ignorant as to who had presented plans. The various plans and specifications presented to him were numbered and all evidences as to their authors, or by whom they were presented, were carefully concealed from him. The result of his investigation was presented to the Commission in a written report, and besides he appeared before the Commission and was subjected to the most careful inquiry touching the reasons for his conclusions, and the facts upon which they were based. Mr. Green was of the opinion that several of the plans which were presented were excellent, but, in respect to most of these, that the buildings proposed could not be erected for the money which was available. He reported that the plans and specifications of Theodore C. Link, Architect, St. Louis, Mo., were decidedly the most promising of those before the Commission. Not only was Mr. Green of the opinion that Architect Link’s plans were the best, but he was very high in his praise of the architectural ability and taste which they displayed, and he pronounced them beyond all question as entirely harmonious, perfectly honest, and in every way worthy and excellent. Several other plans were highly commended by Mr. Green, but when the Commission considered the facts in respect to those plans which met his approval they concurred in his judgment, and the Commission was unanimous in selecting the plans and specifications presented by Mr. Link, provided, certain alterations therein could be made without in any way detracting from their excellence or marring the structure. It must be remembered that the statute did not prescribe plans and specifications for the new State House, and that the architects who presented plans, therefore, were left to their own judgment and taste as to what was proper, and none of them were well versed in the needs of the State. While Mr. Link’s original plans were most excellent, yet in the opinion of the Commission certain alterations and changes had to be made before the building would be, in its judgment, the kind of structure which the present and future necessities of the State demanded. Thereupon, Mr. Link was called to a conference with the Commission, and when the changes desired were submitted to him, it was found that they could be made without in any way affecting the main architectural features of the proposed building. These changes were accordingly made, under direction of the Commission, by Architect Link, and his plans and specifications, as so altered, were unanimously adopted and approved. The contract with the architect was accordingly entered into, by which the Commission agreed to pay Mr. Link the usual fees of architects, five per centum, but provided that in no event should his fees exceed $45,000, and further required of the architect, although not directed by law so to do, that, for the compensation agreed to be paid him, he should present to the Commission for the State a plan for the improvement and adornment of the grounds on which the New Capitol is now being erected. These plans and specifications for the betterment of the grounds did not cost the State anything and are presented for the pleasure of the Legislature when it comes to consider the improvement of the surroundings of the building.

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Whew, that was a looooong paragraph! Tomorrow, hiring the contractor.

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This is the first part of a four-part series. Want to keep reading?



Categories: Architectural Research, Books, Cool Old Places, Jackson, Mississippi Landmarks

6 replies

  1. That is a remarkable story. I’ve only darkened the door of the old Jefferson Building and that was 15 years back when it was being refurbished and I could only peek at the reading room. The LOC website has a chronology of the building
    http://www.loc.gov/jefftour/chronology.html

    Thanks 4 the wonderful historical connection 2 the federal city and a priceless building in both locations.

    Like

  2. And there Bernard Green is–thanks for that link!

    You MUST go back to the Jefferson Building–and if possible you should find something to research there. It doesn’t take much to get your library card, and when you do, you can go right into the main reading room, which is one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever spent time in. Well worth whatever effort it takes to get there.

    Like

  3. Wow – a consultant from DC who’s fees and costs were less than $500 . . . that’s incredible.

    I don’t suppose that the non-winning designs are still available anywhere. I think it’s always fun to see what COULD have been built.

    Like

  4. I wondered that too–I’ve never seen them, but then again, I haven’t spent much time looking for them. Presumably, if they exist they’d be at the state archives.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. From the Archives: Critiquing the New Capitol Designs (1900) | Preservation in Mississippi
  2. A Rosetta Stone and Truth about the Dome? « Preservation in Mississippi

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